Sleepy Side Effects
When they’re babies, they get fussy. As they grow, the repercussions of sleep deprivation get more serious. “Older children can push themselves to run on fumes, like adults do,” says Kunhardt. “And then the problems start.”
Growth and hormone disturbances: Research shows that lack of sleep can lower leptin, the hormone that signals that you are full, and elevate ghrelin, which stimulates appetite. And those hormonal shifts can lead kids to overeat: Even one lost hour of sleep every night increases the obesity risk in adolescents by 80 percent, according to research published in the American Journal of Human Biology.
Lack of focus: You already know that a tired kid is a distracted kid. Research has long linked daytime sleepiness to difficulty with paying attention and hyperactivity. A 2006 study in the journal Pediatrics revealed that when children who had sleep apnea received surgical treatment and began getting better sleep, symptoms such as hyperactive behavior and inability to focus were dramatically reduced or almost disappeared.
Learning problems: Your brain doesn’t function well when you’ve tossed and turned all night, and the same is true for kids. A 2010 study of 8-year-olds published in the journal Sleep Medicine showed that sleepy participants scored significantly lower in some cognitive tests than did their well-rested peers.
Trouble reading emotional cues: A 2010 study showed that young adults who didn’t sleep for 30 hours straight had trouble identifying whether a person’s expressions were happy or angry. “That’s a symptom of children on the autism spectrum, who tend to have sleep issues,” says Dennis Rosen, M.D. “It raises the question of whether getting them to sleep better can improve daytime functioning.”
Sleeping Like a Baby
“Sleep is one of the basic nutrients of life, along with food,” says Kunhardt. “We would never let our kids go hungry. We have to think the same way about getting enough rest.” So just how much do they need? The National Sleep Foundation gives some guidance.
Newborns (up to 2 months): Infants have the widest range—anywhere from 10½ to 18 hours a day is normal.
Babies (up to about 1 year:) Sleep patterns should fall into predictable napping and bedtime patterns. Babies need one to four naps a day (fewer as they approach the end of their first year). Nine to 12 hours at night is typical.
Toddlers (ages 1 to 3): Naps consolidate into one midday siesta, adding up to 12 to 14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period.
Preschoolers (ages 3 to 5): The nap dwindles, disappearing by about age 5. Most preschoolers need 11 to 13 hours a night.
Grade-schoolers (ages 5 to 12): Right up until they hit puberty, most kids do best with a solid 10 to 11 hours.
Teens (age 13 and up): Most young adults need 9 to 9½ hours.